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Uh Oh: Underage Drinkers Are Apparently Ordering Delivery Booze Like Crazy

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The state’s alcohol control board says that the issue is pretty rampant

The Corner Door Bar’s back bar area, lined with brick and various bottles of alcohol.
Bottles of booze
Matthew Kang
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the board responsible for handing out and overseeing all beer, wine, and liquor licenses within the state, says that — surprise, surprise — a whole lot of underage drinking is happening now that customers can order booze delivered right to their door. In a memo sent wide last night, the ABC says that “minors are routinely able to purchase alcohol through delivery from restaurants,” and implies that more enforcement against restaurants could be coming if the problem isn’t solved soon.

As of March 20, restaurants with alcohol licenses have been allowed to serve to-go and takeaway cocktails and other drinks as part of their broader menu. The initiative, formally called a notice of regulatory relief, was billed as a way for restaurants to continue to make additional money during the current coronavirus pandemic and the closure of restaurant dining rooms. There were a few stipulations, of course: Restaurants must serve food with their alcohol, they must not serve to minors under the legal drinking age of 21 (obviously), and the delivery and takeout containers must be properly sealed. Bars and clubs that do not serve food have been deemed non-essential, and remain closed entirely, making for an even more uncertain future for them.

So what’s happening? Well, teens are loading up delivery apps, lying about their age, and buying booze by the boatload — and that’s a problem for everyone, especially the restaurants themselves. The companies that hold the license, not the third-party apps they sell through, are responsible for the oversight of sale and consumption of their product, and if something bad were to happen, they would be on the hook, not say Postmates. Per the ABC:

Licensees are responsible for these unlawful deliveries, and the Department encourages licensees to review the practices of these services and their reliance on them. The Department notes that many third-party delivery companies have specific guidelines designed to avoid sales to minors, but those guidelines are largely being ignored by the delivery personnel.

And there’s more:

If a licensee relies on a third-party online service to pick up and deliver an alcoholic beverage to a customer, and that third-party service delivers the beverage to a minor, the licensee has violated section 25658, is subject to discipline against its license, and its employees may be subject to arrest and criminal prosecution.

The food and packaging mandates for restaurants are also routinely being overlooked, says the ABC in its note last night. For example, some restaurants have not been selling meals along with the alcohol, and others have simply been pouring alcohol into delivery-style soft drink containers and then just taping the end of the straw, or putting booze into coffee cups and adding a stopper to the top. Neither is considered a viable way to seal those drinks.

The ABC does not point out specific offenders in the delivery app or restaurant space, but says that their enforcement has uncovered “significant violations.” Of course, restaurants being ultimately responsible for the end product of the food they’re asking those apps to deliver has always been the case, which has cause some prominent Los Angeles-area restaurants to stop using apps altogether out of a fear for their own, and their customers, health and safety.